Hamilton: U.S. running out of time to save Iraq
Here are some excerpts from Anderson Cooper's interview with Lee Hamilton and James Baker, co-chairs of the Iraq Study Group:
COOPER: Secretary Baker, you called the situation in Iraq "grave and deteriorating." How much time do you think the U.S. has? How much of a window of opportunity is there?
BAKER: Well, I don't think you can measure it exactly. But we firmly believe in the assessment which we put in the report, which is a very tough assessment, very bleak assessment. But one thing I can tell you for sure -- that is all 10 members of our commission, Democrats and Republicans alike, think we ought to implement the recommendations of this report if there's any chance for success
COOPER: "Grave and deteriorating," though. Does that mean we are losing?
BAKER: Well, I don't think that you can say that we are losing or winning. I'll give you General Pace's definition: We're in the midst of a war, and if we don't adopt these recommendations, we run serious risk of losing.
COOPER: Do you (Hamilton) believe we are winning?
HAMILTON: I don't think we're losing; I don't think we're winning. I just think we're engaged right in the middle of war. I think there are a lot of steps we can take to enhance our prospects of winning and we'd better take them very soon. You ask how much time we've got. The answer is not very much. We don't measure this in terms of months. You measure it in terms of weeks and maybe days in which we have to act.
COOPER: How much of this insurgency right now is motivated by al Qaeda? President Bush seemed to be indicating that al Qaeda is behind most of the violence. There are criminal gangs, there are, as you talk about in the report, death squads, nationalist insurgents....
HAMILTON: We think chief violence today is sectarian, not al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is present, al Qaeda is part of the violence, particularly in certain areas, but it is not the chief source of violence today. There are a number of different sources of violence, including just plain old criminality. Al Qaeda is a factor, but not the chief source. The American casualties are coming from the sectarian violence largely.
COOPER: Is it possible that getting U.S. troops out will lessen the violence? It will at least take away the motivation of nationalist insurgents.
BAKER: Many people have argued that to us. Many people in Iraq have made that case.
COOPER: Do you buy it?
BAKER: Yes, I think there's some validity to it. Absolutely. Then we're no longer seen to be the occupiers. We're still going to have a very robust force presence in Iraq and in the region for quite a number of years after this thing sorts itself out, whichever way it sorts itself out. We have to do that because we have vital national interests in that region. We have the problem of al Qaeda. We cannot leave the country to be a Taliban-like base for al Qaeda. So we're going to maintain. Even after we do what we said here, there's still going to be a lot of force protection combat capability, a lot of training, equipping and supporting, and there will be rapid reaction teams and special ops forces to chase al Qaeda.
COOPER: Based inside Iraq?
BAKER: Based inside Iraq.
HAMILTON: As you draw down American forces, at whatever rate or level, we have to acknowledge that you create some risks. When you embed American forces with Iraqi forces, that creates a situation of some risks. We want to minimize those risks as much as we possibly can.
COOPER: You have both met with President Bush in the last couple of days, and his spokespeople have indicated, "Look, there are other groups looking into this. The Joint Chiefs of Staff is going to issue a report." He (Bush) says he's willing to listen and read the recommendations. What's your sense of his willingness to act on your recommendations?
HAMILTON: Look, the president is getting a lot of advice from people other than ourselves and he should be, and we don't object to that. We don't have all the truth here. There's one very, very big difference. The only source of bipartisan advice is from the Iraq Study Group. You've got a country today that is badly split, a government that is badly split, executive, legislative, split within administration, split all over the place on Capitol Hill.
If you're going to have an effective policy in this country in the next two years, we've got to come together. And the only way to come together is for the president and the leaders in the Congress to reach out to one another in bipartisan effort. What we did in the report was put together realizable goals -- goals that could be achieved given the political environment in Washington and political environment in Iraq. It's very easy to sit anywhere and shoot off a lot of recommendations to solve the problem of Iraq. They won't work unless you have bipartisan report. That's what our report brings to this whole effort -- a bipartisan solution.
BAKER: That, no other report is going to bring. And the American people desperately want this.